(Posted on May 10, 2006) Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) was on C-Span this morning discussing ways in which FEMA should be dealt with moving forward. Rep. Davis chairs the Government Reform Committee and sits on the Homeland Security Committee. His ideas are sound, intelligent and on-target. Finally, a politician who seems to understand how FEMA should function and ways in which the current problems can be addressed effectively.
Davis’ primary recommendation is to move FEMA out of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and into the Executive Office of the White House so that FEMA leadership will have direct access to the president and resume its place as a cabinet-level position and agency. I really think this makes sense because during a disaster, leadership must have direct access to the president and have the capability to commandeer whatever assets and resources are needed to address both the response and recovery needs. Under DHS, FEMA does not have that capability and precious hours, if not days, are wasted trying to navigate the bureaucratic system; this much to the detriment of the response efforts and people’s lives.
I still agree with Homeland Security Watch and others in my field, however. Moving FEMA out of DHS as a sole answer will not fix some of the internal, systemic problems. Proper and appropriate leadership, robust and continued financial and political support, reinvigorated work-force, and strengthened planning, response and recovery systems with more integration is also needed.
I appreciate Davis’ frank assessment of FEMA and his courage to cut through some of the DC politics to put forth reasonable solutions. He did mention that unfortunately, Congressional committees have their own politics and territory issues that may make implementing comprehensive, holistic, and reasonable solutions for FEMA all the more difficult. This is where politics and ego must be put aside so that an agency whose primary focus is to save and rebuild lives during a critical period is placed at the forefront.
Davis is leading the charge regarding legislation that would make FEMA an independent agency again. The proposed legislation, RESPOND Act: Restoring Emergency Services To Protect Our Nation From Disasters Act, will not only make FEMA independent, it will strengthen its planning and response capabilities. Davis correctly pointed out that once FEMA was placed under DHS, it not only lost authority and critical access to the Commander-in-Chief, it lost significant funding and key personnel. This must be restored along with better leadership, plans, technology and response systems.
You can view Rep. Davis’ interview on C-Span’s Washington Journal here. If you have a few moments, I encourage you to listen to the interview. It is one of the more sound views on the FEMA situation.
(Posted May 9, 2006) The General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report today on its analysis of and recommendations for strengthening FEMA after last years tragedy. The report, FEMA: Factors for Future Success and Issues to Consider for Organizational Placement, outlines suggested changes for FEMA aside from simply abolishing it or separating it out from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The GAO states that the following should be looked at rather than just organizational changes:
- Clarity of FEMA's mission and its related responsibilities and authorities
- The experience of and training related to, FEMA leadership
- The adequacy of its human, financial, and technological resources
- The effectiveness of its planning, exercises and related partnerships
Essentially, the GAO is suggesting that we look at the substantive issues presented as a result of FEMA's performance during Hurricane Katrina, and not the reactive, political, or superficial "fixes" presented by the administration or elected officials. The report states that organizational changes alone will not fix FEMA, but rather, clarifying its mission, strengthening its leadership, increasing its preparedness and response capabilities, and clear resources identified will better move the agency forward. What I find particularly interesting about the GAO report is its emphasis on well trained, cohesive, strong, and effective leadership. In addition, it is the first report I have seen (from government) that actually addresses where the breakdowns happened during FEMA's response and offers reasonable and implementable changes. And a bonus is that the report is 22 pages!
Homeland Security Watch also reported on the GAO findings and felt similar to how I feel about it:
I made a similar point in a post last week, and agree entirely that the issue of organizational structure is secondary. Hopefully the current debate in Congress will not get bogged down on organizational issues, but will instead focus on the less-visible but more important determinants of FEMA’s success.
Indeed, hopefully Congress will listen to the common sense report issued today and not let politics or reactionary ideas rule the day.
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